Louis-Dreyfus remembers the first time she got a laugh onstage. “It was a silly short play called Serendipity,” she says. “I was in fourth grade playing a queen. I was supposed to faint, and everyone laughed. I thought, I didn’t mean to be funny, but I’ll take it.” Even today, she says, acting is “like scratching a deep itch for me. I love getting into the skin of a character. I love being funny. I love making people laugh. I love being on a set and the camaraderie. It’s a very pleasant task. I’m just so happy to have been able to eke out a living at it.”
Of course, Louis-Dreyfus’s “eking” includes winning a Golden Globe for Seinfeld and three Emmys: one for Seinfeld; one for her 2006–10 series, The New Adventures of Old Christine; and one last year for Veep. She’s been in two Woody Allen movies (Hannah and Her Sisters, Deconstructing Harry), has had recurring roles on Arrested Developmentand Curb Your Enthusiasm and has a star on Hollywood Boulevard (in an appropriately comic touch, her name was misspelled).
It’s a Hollywood truism that the tone on a film or TV set trickles down from the name at the top of the call sheet. Louis-Dreyfus’s Veep costars, a comic ensemble that works in balletic, bumbling concert, credit her with making their work a delight. “She’s void of any kind of arrogance or entitlement,” says Tony Hale, who plays Gary, an assistant so abjectly devoted to Selina that he picks up her pregnancy-test kits and breaks up with her boyfriend for her. “She’s a fantastic actress and a fantastic person. It’s the truth.”
“Julia is also a producer on the show,” says Anna Chlumsky, who plays Amy, Selina’s chief of staff. “For some actors, that’s a title in name only, but she’s in tune with every bit of the production. The wheels are always turning on how we can make something cook even better. She’s always on her A-game.”
Amy Poehler, who was a cast member on Saturday Night Live when Louis-Dreyfus hosted the show in 2006 (the first female SNL alum to do so), has since become a good friend. “Here’s the thing about Julia,” she says. “She’s a professional. She’s kind. She’s supersmart. But at the end of the day, she’s fuckin’ hilarious. It’s just so fun to be around her.”
She may downplay her celebrity, but Louis-Dreyfus is aware of what it can do. Longtime friend Laurie David, the ex-wife of Seinfeld co-creator Larry David, is a board member of the Natural Resources Defense Council and coproducer of the Al Gore documentary An Inconvenient Truth. David says she shared the actress’s evolution: “We grew up together learning about the environment. Julia’s one of those people who are very hands-on. She cares deeply about the ocean and climate and a variety of issues, and if anything is asked of her, she shows up. She’s held picket signs and shot PSAs. I have a tremendous amount of respect for people who use their cachet and their resources for good, and Julia is one of those people.”
Veep is filmed in Baltimore, midway between London, Iannucci’s home, and L.A., where Louis-Dreyfus lives with her husband of 25 years, writer-director-producer Brad Hall. (A second home, a bastion of reclaimed woods, solar heating and greenness, is in Santa Barbara.) Their son Charlie is in high school, and their older boy, Henry, attends college on the East Coast. “Had Veep come along five years earlier, I would never have done it,” Louis-Dreyfus says. “But because Charlie is 15, I think to leave for a couple of weeks at a time is OK, first and foremost because I’ve got a great partner, Brad, who is just an amazing daddy. If he wasn’t, I couldn’t do this. I wouldn’t do it.”